Should You Act as Your Own Agent? – Guest Post by Joel Bresler…

Any author who has ever seriously tried to secure literary representation knows that, at minimum, it is a PITA (pain in the ass). You can query (what an awful word!) dozens of agents, many of whom will never even acknowledge it. Those who do may take as long as a year to get back to you, and will have made a comprehensive decision on your full-length manuscript based on as little as the first few pages.

Individual agents tend to want projects which appeal to their own, particular demographic. They are often unwilling to consider anything someone who is not exactly like them might gravitate to. Good luck if you are a guy writing for other guys, especially if there aren’t lots of gun fights and explosions involved!

So: should you consider acting as your own literary agent?

The answer to that question may depend on the answers to a few others. For instance, is your manuscript so highly polished it could be published as-is by any significant publisher? Have you reached out to every appropriate agent who could conceivably like what you have to offer? It is easy to give up too soon, especially if you have been contacting literary agents whose interests are clearly elsewhere. Then – and this is a biggie – are you willing to take your author self out of the equation, and venture outside your comfort zone?

If your responses to the above are “Yes”, “Yes” and “Yes”, in that order, it might be worth taking a shot at representing yourself to publishers the way an agent would.

First, you will need to become acquainted with how agents do things. A good start would be studying examples of agent pitch letters to publishers, numerous examples of which can be found online. You must then develop comparable pitch letters for your own manuscript, which, surprisingly, may seem more difficult than writing the complete first draft of your book had been.(This and composing back cover copy feel that way to me sometimes.) It is imperative that your pitch sounds as though it is coming from a professional, third-party describing someone else’s manuscript, and not from you, the author. Critical, in fact. Get other objective opinions on whether or not you have pulled this off before actually sending it anywhere.

That, though, will be the easy part. A good agent’s expertise lies largely in knowing whom to pitch. They are typically very selective, at last initially, as to where they present a prospective book, focusing on a very short list of editors. The average author does not know the who’s who of publishing like an experienced literary agent does, which means you’ll have some potentially challenging research in your future.

Which publishers publish your type of book? Which might, based on other things they have published? Who are the acquiring editors at those houses, and what specifically do they, individually, acquire? How can they be contacted (even if they insist on agents only)? It will take some digging, but you will eventually emerge with names of editors potentially interested in your manuscript, as well as how they can be reached.

Then, if you’re brave enough, reach out to them. Make your pitch, the same way a third-party agent would. Some will still insist on submissions from third-party agents only. But you might be surprised to find a few who will consider submissions directly from the author if they are presented in the precise format those editors have come to expect from their literary gatekeepers. This approach may also help your chances with publishers who already accept submissions directly from authors. They will often respond more quickly and favorably to pitches that look like they came from a publishing industry pro, instead of just an amateur author desperately trying to get his or her book into print.

Joel Bresler is the author of

Bottomless Cups





Barnes & Noble





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